Lick one’s wounds

Lick one’s wounds is an idiom that has been in use at least since the 1600s. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as beating around the bush, jump the gun, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, Achilles heel, barking up the wrong tree, chip on your shoulder, a dime a dozen, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the expression lick one’s wounds, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

The expression lick one’s wounds means to retreat and recover after an embarrassment, defeat or disappointment. The idiom lick one’s wounds is a metaphor for feeling injured, and having the need to rest and recover. There are two opinions as to the origin of the phrase lick one’s wounds. One theory is that the phrase is an observation of the behavior of injured animals, who will retreat to a safe place when injured to allow themselves to heal. Animals clean their own wounds by licking them, and can heal themselves if the wounds are not too extensive. The second opinion as to the origin of the phrase is the idea that human saliva is a healing substance. This idea goes back at least as far as Pliny the Elder, a Roman philosopher who died in 79 A.D. Interestingly, recent scientific studies show the presence of histamines in human saliva that may promote healing. The idiom lick one’s wounds appears in John Dryden’s play All for Love, written in 1677: “… ’Scaped from the lion’s paws, they bay far off,  And lick their wounds, and faintly threaten war.” An earlier term, to lick whole, meant to heal oneself of one’s wounds, literally and figuratively. Related phrases are licks one’s wounds, licked one’s wounds, licking one’s wounds.


So, my lofty dreams have been cut short several times, and I have been left in the lurch to clutch at the resultant straws and to lick my wounds. (The Guardian)

When Miranda returns to Winthrop two decades later as an acclaimed movie star, she claims to be finding “someplace quiet to lick my wounds.” (The Harvard Crimson)

Days later as Ballinger licked his wounds in a hotel in Thailand, he learned that the woman he’d met — Emily Harrington, who playfully gave him the moniker “StikBug” — and her team had successfully conquered the world’s tallest mountain. (The Sierra Sun)

However, Sky Sports pundit Souness was adamant there was no need for gloom on the red half of Merseyside as Pep Guardiola celebrated and Jurgen Klopp licked his wounds. (The Belfast Telegraph)

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